Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation


Tuesday 30 January 1996



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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman:Mr. James Hill

Bayley, Mr. Hugh (York)

Bowis, Mr. John (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health)

Burden, Mr. Richard (Birmingham, Northfield)

Davis, Mr. Terry (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

Eagle, Ms Angela (Wallasey)

Hargreaves, Mr. Andrew (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Harris, Mr. David (St. Ives)

Hughes, Mr. Kevin (Doncaster, North)

Hughes, Mr. Robert G. (Harrow, West)

Kirkwood, Mr. Archy (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Luff, Mr. Peter (Worcester)

McLoughlin, Mr. Patrick (West Derbyshire)

Milburn, Mr. Alan (Darlington)

Mitchell, Sir David (North, West Hampshire)

Powell, Mr. William (Corby)

Vaughan, Sir Gerard (Reading, East)

Wilkinson, Mr. John (Ruislip-Northwood)

Wise, Mrs. Audrey (Preston)

Wray, Mr. Jimmy (Glasgow, Provan)

Mr. F. Cranmer, Committee Clerk

3 Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation Tuesday 30 January 1996

[MR. JAMES HILL in the Chair]

Draft Contracting Out (Management Functions in Relation to Certain Community Homes) Order 1996

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Bowis): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Contracting Out (Management Functions in Relation to Community Homes) Order 1996. The statutory instrument relates to an order-making power included in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, and will enable local authorities to contract out the management of open—that is to say, non-secure—accommodation in community homes. We have consulted on the measure with interested parties, including local government organisations. It will encourage a wide and diverse range of providers as in other aspects of social services. We believe that local authorities should be able to bring the philosophy and experience of the voluntary sector or the particular skills of the private sector to bear on the management of children's homes. Local authorities should also be able to choose from a range of options in their search for the most efficient and effective ways of providing accommodation for looked-after children. Residential care remains an important element in the options open to local authorities when placing looked-after children. It represents a positive choice, not a last resort, and the quality of care should be of the highest order. The measure offers local authorities greater flexibility in making arrangements for such care. I should like to reassure the Committee that local authorities will continue to be responsible for decisions about the placement of children in their care, and they will continue to have proper regard for the rights and welfare of young people.

4.32 pm

Mr. Alan Milburn (Darlington): The order is largely uncontentious, but I should like to take the opportunity to ask the Minister to clarify a couple of points. The number of children in residential care is sharply declining—thankfully. More and more children who need care have been placed with foster carers. Those who are left, however, tend to be the most damaged and, sometimes, the most disruptive of children. In response to the consultation document, the Association of Directors of Social Services cautioned against any assumption that contracting out of services will necessarily produce cost and practice benefits. I wonder whether the Department of Health has had an opportunity to estimate the likely additional costs that local authorities may face as a consequence of the contracting out of services. 4 The experience of managing residential child care—whether in the voluntary or public sector—has demonstrated the need to ensure that spare capacity is available for emergency referrals. A large proportion of children referred to residential child care placements are placed on an emergency basis. Perhaps the Minister can give the Committee a reassurance that under the contracting arrangements between local authorities and independent providers, local authorities will be able to contract for spare capacity to be made available. It emerged from the Department's consultation exercise that there is some confusion about the education of children who are placed in contracting-out facilities. It is presumed that the Department envisages requirements for education within residential premises being specified in contracts. Is it intended that young people be placed in mainstream schools? Perhaps the Minister could clarify his thinking. Perhaps most importantly, what assurances can the Minister offer the Committee that in contracting out the management of children's homes the Department will insist upon appropriate safeguards to ensure that the highest standards of care are offered to a group of young people who are extremely vulnerable and damaged?

Sir David Mitchell (North-West Hampshire): Picking up on that point, will my hon. Friend the Minister guide me on the extent to which a local authority will remain responsible for ensuring the safety of those who are in its care or contracted out under the measure? My hon. Friend will have in mind that I have a constituency case, of which he is aware, that may lead to an Adjournment debate.

4.35 pm

Mr. Bowis: I am grateful for the early warning of the late-night engagement to which my hon. Friend invites me. I am, indeed, aware of his interest in the matter generally and in the specifics of the case that he mentions. He is right to raise the matter of the safety and welfare of children in care and, where appropriate, the control of such children, to ensure that they are adequately looked after and are not at risk to themselves or other people. That is all part of the management and responsibility of local authorities, and will remain so. That also answers one of the questions put by the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn). He is right to say that we are talking about some especially damaged and disadvantaged children, who may have been through some difficult stages—that is probably more true now than it used to be in such homes. That is why I stressed the fact that the children are placed in those homes by the local authorities—there is no change in that responsibility. The local authorities therefore have the statutory responsibility as laid down by the Government for the welfare of those children. That is backed up by the placement of children regulations and other related regulations. I hope that that provides the reassurance that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir David Mitchell) and the hon. Member for Darlington sought. One can look at costs in a variety of ways. There are savings in not having to manage the homes directly, and 5 there may be cost benefits in future contracts. The hon. Member for Darlington is equally right to say that there will be cost implications in the management of contracts. The cost of ensuring the welfare of children should not be any different, as it will apply whoever manages the home, whether it be the council, the voluntary sector or the private sector. The hon. Gentleman referred to emergency referrals, which may, indeed, be part of the contracts. One would expect such eventualities to be covered in the contracting out of services with the homes. That will give the local authorities greater choice about what is available and what is appropriate for particular children. One would expect education, and where the authorities place the children, to be arranged through the contracts. That will be no different. We are not trying to change the regime in that way. What we are saying is that other people may be able to manage the welfare of the children and the homes. 6 The safeguard is important. We have considered the measure carefully and have consulted widely, as the hon. Member for Darlington has acknowledged. We have taken on board the points made by the directors of social services and others. The safeguards are all there and will continue to be there. Given that there will be no difference between the safeguards in the present regime and those in future regimes, I hope that I have reassured the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Contracting Out (Management Functions in Relation to Certain Community Homes) Order 1996.

Committee rose at twenty-two minutes to Five o'clock.


Hill, Mr. James (Chairman)

Bayley, Mr.

Bowis, Mr.

Davis, Mr. Terry

Hargreaves, Mr.

Harris, Mr.

Hughes, Mr. Robert G.

Luff, Mr.

McLoughlin, Mr.

Milburn, Mr.

Mitchell, Sir D.

Powell, Mr. William

Vaughan, Sir G.

Wilkinson, Mr.